The Charger Blog

National Security Major Reflects on Importance of Gaining an International Perspective

Marissa Lehner ’21 says the experiences she had studying at the University of New Haven’s campus in Prato, Italy, and attending a Model United Nations conference in Erfurt, Germany, will stay with her the rest of her life.

February 7, 2020

By Marissa Lehner ’21

Image of Lehner, Dr. Haynes, and others.
Lehner (left) attended a Model United Nations conference in Germany.

During the fall semester, I had the privilege of not only studying abroad at the University of New Haven’s campus in Prato, Italy, but, also, competing with the University’s Model United Nations team at an international conference in Erfurt, Germany. My experiences enabled me to discover how an international perspective on history and current issues is crucial to working toward a better future.

Throughout the semester in Prato, it was sometimes easy to forget that we were going to school. Much of what we learned we saw with our own eyes – we didn’t just read about it in a textbook. Many of us explored the history not only of Prato, but also other parts of Italy as well as Europe as a whole.

Image of Marissa Lehner ’21.
Marissa Lehner ’21

Although it was easy to get lost in the art, architecture, and culture we experienced, it was just as striking to see the stumbling stones on the streets of Prato, which mark the Italians who were deported during World War II, or to watch people of all ages in cities across Europe walk the streets to protest climate change. It reinforced the fact that though we may all come from different places, we all share a history – and a future.

The importance of what one might call shared humanity was further reinforced when I attended the Model United Nations conference in Erfurt, Germany. These conferences always have a large international focus, as many students travel from across the world to attend. But this conference was different.

"The most impactful part of the conference was the international cooperation that we were emulating."Marissa Lehner ’21

The conference focused on multilateralism and the importance of building bridges – not walls – between people. This metaphor was especially impactful considering where we were: Erfurt is located in what was formerly East Germany, and 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. All week, this served as a reminder of the importance of not only remembering the past, but, also, creating a better future.

This was apparent when the committee meetings were held. I represented Japan on the Human Rights Council throughout the week, and our meetings were held in a building that previously served as a prison for political opponents of the East German government and headquarters for the East German police. Being able to discuss current human rights issues while standing in a place that has so much history with human rights violations was incredibly moving. It made the issues we were discussing seem all that more real.

Image of Marissa Lehner ’21.
Marissa Lehner ’21 studied in Italy during the fall semester.

The most impactful part of the conference was the international cooperation that we were emulating. As we came together to represent different countries, many of us brought experiences from very different backgrounds. We all had different perspectives on the various issues we addressed, and our solutions reflected that.

The conference reinforced the importance of working together to solve the problems that the world faces – and will continue to face. I would like to thank everyone who made our attendance at this conference possible, including University benefactors Phil and Susan Bartels, Dr. Chris Haynes, and Joseph Scollo. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to attend the Model United Nations conference, and I know that what I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life.